Permission-Based Training: How And Why It Works

By Sean O’Shea

One of our primary goals when training and rehabbing dogs is to shift them out of auto-pilot, reactionary, impulsive mode, and get them into a listening, processing, thinking mode. What does this auto-pilot/reactionary/impulsive behavior mode look like? It’s the mode where the dog sees, hears, smells something and instantly reacts to it. No evaluating involved. It’s where the dog wants to do something, or to access something, and simply does it, with zero concern for the outcome.

It’s an impulse control issue. Feel = do! No thinking, no evaluating, no value given to the choice, just an instant desire and an instant response. And it’s here that so many dogs get into trouble. Allowed to practice this “auto-pilot” way of life, it becomes their default. I want something I take it. I dislike something I growl. I want to run somewhere, I go. I see a dog on the walk I go bananas. I’m afraid of something I hide. And on and on.

This is where permission based training comes in to save the day. Permission based training isn’t anything fancy, but it is highly effective. Basically, we start teaching the dog that he needs to look to us before making decisions – not every decision mind you, just the ones that matter. The important decisions. The decisions that have serious ramifications, serious gusto behind them, or are reinforcing patterns of impulsive behavior.

This new way of living/behaving creates many positive changes. First and foremost, it calms the dog down. Dogs living on the edge of constant action or reaction (think of a runner at the starting line – always ready to explode) are typically super tightly wound, nervous, and edgy. Along with the calmness, it also creates handler respect, which is paramount to a healthy relationship. (A dog who looks to his owner for permission is usually a dog in a good headspace.) And of course, it teaches tons of impulse control, and gets the dog to think before acting – creating a safer, more conscious dog. All major pieces of the training/rehab/healthy dog puzzle.

Once a dog begins to look to you for permission, rather than just reacting to impulse, you’ll see much of the manic, hyped-up, tuned-out, crazy, disrespectful, and disobedient behavior disappear.

Here’s a few examples of where we work on this and where permission is needed:

-Crate (going in or out)

-Thresholds (going in or out)

-Place command (not leaving unless given permission)

-Eating (waiting for release)

-Peeing/sniffing on walks (waiting for release)

-Walking in a structured “heel” fashion (unless released)

-Any command that the dog has been asked to be in (must wait for release)

-Furniture (wait for permission)

-Personal space (must wait for permission to access)

-Getting in our out of the car (wait for permission)

-A bomb-proof recall (must always come back on command, wait for permission to roam – or not, perhaps the greatest impulse control/relationship builder)

-And any other contexts where you see a lot of excitement/pushiness/determination etc.

Teaching your dog to look to you, to ask you for permission before simply reacting is the true secret sauce to transforming both behavior and attitude. It creates a more relaxed, respectful, thinking dog. And who doesn’t want that?

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  1. We got an mini Aussie puppy who is going on 5 months old. I would love to begin your training method ASAP but do not know how to get started. Can you advise me where to start?

    • Hi Patricia! There are a couple of routes you can go. You can watch our free videos on YouTube (we have over 400), read the blog, watch my Facebook for daily tips and training ideas, and we always have our actual DVD’s for a more organized and comprehensive take. You can find links to them all on my website:

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